Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Websites of Contemporary Painters in the UK

I've now updated yesterday's post John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize 2010: shortlist announced about the painters living or professionally based in the UK who have been selected for the £25,000 John Moores Painting Prize 2010.  It now includes links to their websites for those where I'm reasonably confident that I've been able to identify the correct one!

This means that, if you can't get to see the exhibition - or maybe were not selected, you can now check out the websites and work of the contemporary painters who have been selected for this major prize in contemporary painting. 

That gives you some insight into the sort of painting which gets selected - which is not to say that a different panel might not have different views next time around.

It also shows you something of the way in which artists websites have been developing as a marketing tool - and options for how best to display art when your viewers are judging your work but are not up close and personal

Judges selecting work - up close and personal

As always when doing one of my major artists' website search exercises, I've learned a few things about the current status and state of play of artists' websites in the UK.

Below you can find my notes of observations made this morning during the search - with some suggestions as to how websites might be improved.

  • virtually all painters now have websites.  By this I mean that an artist’s work can be found  on their own website, on a gallery’s website (usually because of their inclusion in an exhibition) or on some sort of compendium website.  I noticed a number had got themselves listed on the Saatchi Gallery website - although I used that to find their website proper.
  • younger artists are now much more web aware.  The very high percentage of selected artists who have websites supports a notion that I’ve had for some time.  This is that, whether or not they like it, virtually all younger artists now recognise how vital it is to have their artwork and their identity as an artist/painter represented in some way on the Internet.  I’m not saying all the artists selected are young - but virtually all of those who were had websites 
  • most artists websites could be found pretty quickly and easily.  I was absolutely amazed at how many artists’ websites came top of my google search.  Mostly these were artists who had chosen to have a website in their own name. 
Design and functionality
  • some websites were very impressive.  Much more so than many that I routinely come across.  It's worth taking a look just to get some ideas.
  • many websites loaded very fast.  That’s going to become very important to painters who have sites laden with images now that Google has changed its ranking algorithm to factor in load times.  However some artists (or their website designers) had obviously had not checked the size of files which were being loaded - and they didn't load so fast or had too big a site.  (I'm a prime culprit on the latter)
  • still a lot of Flash about. This one is interesting.  Personally if I had Adobe Flash on my website right now I’d be getting rid of it.  Two main reasons plus some more which are also very important:
    • The iPad resolutely refuses to use Adobe Flash Apple’s argument is that Flash does not meet open system standards and is also a security problem, a resource hog, crashes computers and generally does not work well on mobile systems and wears out batteries very fast!  I have to say I see their point.   Instead Apple have opted for systems which permit a 10 hour battery life - which means that the both the iPhone and iPad will be used more and more for internet access on a daily basis.  If this becomes a really important way for people to access the internet then you’ll definitely want to make sure your website to be capable of being seen on the iPhone and iPad.
    Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards. Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. Apple - Thoughts on Flash
    • Use of flash means that it’s difficult to provide unique URLs for specific pages on your website or paintings in your portfolio. Which means people can’t share your work with clients, galleries, dealers etc.
    • Flash causes privacy problems Enough said?
    • Flash does not provide universal accessibility (in the visual disability sense of the word). You can read more about criticisms of Flash here
  • I got very frustrated by the fact I couldn't identify specific individual works quickly on very many sites.  Slideshows which lack data are not helpful.  The virtually total lack of any search facility also did not help. 

What to do if you want to have an impact on the internet
  • if you get selected for a major art competition...DO make sure that:
    • you’ve got a website sorted prior to the announcement of the shortlist, even if it’s just a site with your name as the domain name pointing to the site you want people to look at.  I always look for the artist’s own website as an indicator of where I should look for better quality images.  Make sure the website has an accurate description and is tagged.  Links to your website from some major sites can be helpful in getting it to appear on the first page of Google (although i will personally look through up to 5 pages to try and find the artist's own website.)
    • you use the same name for the competition and your website.  Those who use variations on their name in different places just cause confusion - and won’t be found.
    • you’ve got an image of the chosen work in a pretty prominent place on your website.  I was able to identify a tiny number of the works selected.  You’d be surprised by how many people failed to make this adjustment and I think this is an area for development amongst most artists.  The only time you wouldn’t do this is if there is an embargo on the work having been displayed anywhere else prior to the exhibition.  Failure to use news pages and hyperlinks is an 'own goal'.  Getting selected for a major art competition is a huge boost for a CV and some restrained boasting is allowed! ;)
  • if you really want to remain anonymous and unknown on the internet make sure you're born to parents who give you a very common name. It’s very, very difficult tracking down people with common names. I probably spend more time going backwards and forwards across many sites for people with common names than anything else when trying to tie websites into lists of people selected for an art competition.  Unfortunately I almost always end up failing to arrive at any sort of definite conclusion as to which is the correct site. One small trick which a number of artists is to include a word you wish to be closely associated with in the domain name of your website.  For example instead of you can have  or
  • if you want to cause confusion share your name with one or more well known people on the internet.   I feel ever so sorry for anybody who has a doppelganger who is big in some aspect completely unrelated to art.  Only one thing is worse and that's having the same name as a painter whose artwork you would not wish to be identified with! From my all too frequent detective work on the internet I can tell you what really helps to identify you as you.
    • Have a news page and keep it up to date - including announcements of all art competitions you've been selected for.
    • Have a comprehensive exhibitions page.  I can very often work out who is who by looking at gallery pages and noting which galleries they are exhibiting with and then looking at the artist page on the gallery site. 
    • Make sure you bio information identifies what is unique about you (eg where you live ior have your studio) also helps enormously.
I haven’t hazarded a guess for artists where I either couldn’t find a site or there was more than one artist and it wasn’t clear which one had been selected. However if by any chance I've got any of the links wrong I'll be more than happy to change it!

I'd be very happy to have comments on my observations and thoughts about matters might be improved.  Plus do you have any:
  • comments on how artists' websites have progressed in recent years
  • suggestions as to what improvements artists can make to make their websites even better?


  1. I am interested in the Flash debate. My site is using flash and I think you are too dismissive of flash. There is an awful lot of flash about on the web and the more it gets used the more it will have support and a platform. I must admit your post, the Apple link and other things I’ve read in the past make me doubt sometime and I will probably move on to a non-flash based site one day. The reliance on a mouse (rollovers), and the incompatibility with mobile devices are not unimportant.
    But as said in the Apple link - 75% of all video on the web is Flash-based. That probably means a very high percentage of computer users have Flash installed. Also I do not imagine my website gets accessed a lot using mobile devices. But one would not want to miss out on that one important visitor!
    My site has pages for paintings and info pages - with separate addresses. I am not sure what the security issue is all about - please enlighten me.
    I am far from knowledgeable on the web, so here is a web-idiot speaking. But surely Flash is not as bad as you say?

  2. Hi Sophie - don't take my word for it, listen to Steve Jobs!

    The one thing I do know for certain is that Flash is power hungry and hence as more and more people move over towards smaller/more mobile computing there are going to be major issues.

    On the security front, why not subscribe to one of the techie sites which keep you updated with issues which crop up. I was reading only yesterday (on CNET?) that yet another Flash security problem has been identified - giving away people's email addresses.

    You don't need Flash to see videos and video can be delivered by means other than Flash.

    However it's important to remember that a lot of what's current at the moment is not where technology will be in 12 or 24 months time and everything will be completely different in 5 years.

    For me the smart move is to look to the way computing is changing and make sure that your website can cope. There is no question that computing is going to be far more mobile in the future and the people who have cash to buy paintings also often have the cash to buy new technology.

    In the meantime, Apple just sold 600,000 Apple iPhones in ONE DAY this week and virtually crashed their order systems. The articles I've been reading suggest they expect to be selling 10 MILLION a quarter in the not too far distant future.

    If you're marketing to people through email and blog then some of your readers will be looking at your marketing while using a mobile device. The click to look at your website needs to deliver a website which can be seen on the mobile device.

    There's a lot of stuff out there on this topic - maybe try a google search?

  3. Although I think I have time yet, I do think you have a point. The mobile devices are going strong and I suppose I should one day look at a non-flash based site....

  4. Thank you, this is all extremely useful advise for those artists, like myself trying to create a prominent web presence.

    I agree with your thoughts on Flash though, but it's a tricky one as often the most attractive means to present your images are Flash-based.
    Oh well back to the drawing-board!

    Great advice : )


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